Tonight’s episode of 20/20 on ABC explores the murder of New Jersey teenager Sarah Stern, who disappeared in December 2016. The encore episode airs at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
Two months after Stern vanished, two of her childhood friends were arrested: Liam McAtasney and Preston Taylor, who were roommates at the time of the murder. In February 2019, McAtasney was convicted on multiple charges including murder and robbery. Prosecutors said he strangled Stern in order to steal money she had found in a shoebox at a family home. He was later sentenced to life in prison.
Taylor, who is now 22 years old, admitted to the jury that he helped McAtasney dispose of Stern’s body. He said they dumped her remains off the Route 35 bridge in Belmar, New Jersey, in an attempt to make her death look like suicide. Her body was never found. Taylor pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 18 years in prison for his role in the crime.
Here’s what you need to know.
ABC: Sarah Stern Never Dated Preston Taylor, But They Went to Junior Prom Together
One detail that was prevalent during the investigation was just how close of friends Sarah Stern, Preston Taylor and Liam McAtasney supposedly were throughout high school. In the 20/20 report, Stern was described as being focused on starting a career as an artist and was not interested in having a serious romantic relationship.
Stern never dated Taylor or McAtasney. But she and Taylor went to the junior prom together.
Superior Court Judge Richard W. English, who handed down Taylor’s 18-year punishment, said during the sentencing that Taylor’s decision to go along with the murder didn’t make any sense to him. The judge noted that Taylor had been friends with Stern since they were freshmen in high school, the Asbury Park Press reported. Judge English added, “Mr. Taylor, it’s clear, did not commit the murder here. He did everything but put his hands around her neck.”
Preston Taylor Testified That Liam McAtasney Had Said Sarah Stern’s Money Was an Amount ‘Somebody Would Kill For’
Preston Taylor cooperated with investigators in exchange for a reduced sentence. He was the first witness to testify during Liam McAtasney’s trial in January 2019.
Taylor explained that McAtasney had been with Sarah Stern when she found cash that her mother, who passed away from cancer in 2013, had left for her at a family home in Avon, New Jersey. Stern made the discovery several months before she was murdered. Prosecutors said McAtasney plotted for at least six months about how to rob Stern of the cash, ABC News reported.
Taylor confirmed that detail to investigators. He explained on the witness stand that McAtasney told him Stern had inherited approximately $100,000, according to the Asbury Park Press. They began discussing what they could do with that amount of money. The conversation evolved into what they would be able to do specifically with Stern’s money.
Taylor said that at a later date, McAtasney and two other friends visited Taylor’s workplace and they talked about Stern’s money again. Taylor claimed McAtasney said, “it was the type of money somebody would kill for.”
However, the amount turned out to be far less than the two men had been expecting. They accessed only about $10,000. Taylor said he agreed to help dispose of Stern’s body in exchange for $3,000, but said he never received the money.
Preston Taylor Knew Liam McAtasney Was Going to Kill Sarah Stern Hours Ahead of Time
Preston Taylor admitted to police that he was aware of the plan to kill Sarah Stern on the day it happened. According to NJ.com, Taylor said Liam McAtasney talked to Stern about possibly moving to Canada together. Taylor claimed McAtasney used this as a ruse to get Stern to withdraw money from a bank deposit box.
On December 2, 2016, McAtasney waited outside the Kearny Bank while Stern accessed her funds. Taylor said McAtasney told him that day that he was going to go forward with a plan to “take her out.”
Hours later, Taylor said McAtasney called him to confirm that Stern was dead. The two had already made plans to dump her body at the Route 35 bridge and had driven to the spot earlier on. The bridge did not have working cameras, 20/20 revealed.
Taylor explained that he and McAtasney placed Stern’s body in the Oldsmobile 88 vehicle she typically drove. McAtasney drove that car while Taylor followed in his own. They left the Oldsmobile at the Route 35 bridge to make it look like Stern had jumped, NJ.com reported.
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